Turrell on Perakh

On one of the Metanexus lists, there’s a review of Mark Perakh’s “Unintelligent Design” by David J. Turrell, M.D. Perakh’s book is a devastating critique of all sorts of pseudoscience, but the “intelligent design” and “bible code” arguments are strongly targeted.

Turrell, though, doesn’t think that Perakh is on target with various criticisms. In fact, Turrell tells the reader that Perakh presents some information that “is out-and-out wrong”.

The first example out of the gate from Turrell after this claim is as follows:

Some examples of the attacks: Against Hugh Ross, an old-earth creationist, Perakh changes the history of the Hebrew language, to challenge Ross’ interpretation of the Torah containing a limited working vocabulary of words with variable meanings. Perakh disagrees, and states the Torah contains 14,691 different words, when it is well known that a working vocabulary of 2,750 words will interpret 95 percent of the five books. Ancient Hebrew was very limited, requiring referral to other similar Semitic languages to be sure of word-root meanings. It fell into disuse in the Middle Ages and modern Israel revived a language, which had a working vocabulary of about 10,000 words. Perakh quotes a modern Israeli dictionary as having 70,000 entries, 50 years after the start of Israel, as if to reinforce his point. It appears that Perakh does not understand the complexities of the scholarship involved in investigating the interpretation of the ancient texts. There are other ways to try to refute Ross’ approach.


This was such an interesting take on things that I decided to look at another well known text, Moby Dick, to see how many words would “interpret” various percentages of the whole:

10% : About 2.5 words (“the”,”of”, and part of “and”)
25% : 12 words
50% : 91 words
75% : 851 words
80% : 1,434 words
85% : 2,420 words
90% : 4,186 words
95% : 7,905 words

The total number of words is 218,623, and the total number of unique words is 17,140.

Turrell’s argument in no way puts Perakh’s assertion at risk. Yeah, common words get used a lot in natural language. But that doesn’t mean that a wider vocabulary isn’t available, and Perakh’s uncontested observation of the size of the vocabulary evident from examination of the source documents themselves does go straight to the heart of any argument that is premised on a significantly smaller vocabulary being the only thing going. Certainly, other approaches might also be used, but so far Turrell hasn’t demonstrated any reason why this one from Perakh should be held suspect.

Perhaps Perakh “does not understand the complexities of the scholarship involved in investigating the interpretation of the ancient texts”, but the argument given in the review by Turrell goes nowhere in getting me to concur with Turrell.

Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.